An Armenian court began on Friday the main trial of a Russian soldier who has confessed to last January’s gruesome killings of the seven members of an Armenian family in Gyumri.
The 20-year-old conscript, Valery Permyakov, is facing life in prison on charges of murder, armed robbery and an attempt to illegally cross the Armenian-Turkish border.
A Russian military court already sentenced Permyakov to 10 years in prison for desertion and theft of firearms and ammunition in a short trial held in Gyumri in August. That trial began shortly after Russian authorities reluctantly agreed to place the separate murder case under Armenian jurisdiction.
Permyakov’s second, Armenian trial is taking place in the premises of the Gyumri headquarters of a Russian military base in Armenia. The soldier has been kept under arrest there since being arrested near the Turkish border early on January 13, hours after six members of the Avetisian family were found shot dead in their home. The family’s seventh member, a 6-month-old baby boy, died of his stab injuries a week later.
Permyakov admitted murdering them during his separate interrogations by Russian and Armenian law-enforcement officials.
Immediately after the high-profile trial got underway, lawyers representing relatives of the victims protested against the venue of the court hearings, saying that they must take place in an Armenian courtroom in Gyumri. One of the lawyers, Lusine Sahakian, also complained that they have trouble hearing Permyakov’s voice.
The presiding judge, Harutyun Movsisian,rejected the demand, citing security considerations and the fact that the defendant is a Russian national.
Permyakov followed the proceedings in a glass cage, guarded by other Russian servicemen as well as Armenian court security officers. He answered the judge’s questions in Russian through an interpreter.
Armenia’s Investigative Committee, which has conducted the murder probe, says that Permyakov broke into the Avetisians’ modest house early in the morning in order to “steal other persons’ possessions.” It says that he fired 28 gunshots and stabbed the sleeping baby with a bayonet attached to his rifle before stealing clothes, three mobile phones and 6,000 drams ($13) in cash and fleeing the crime scene.
The defendant told Russian military prosecutors that he decided to desert his unit because he had grown homesick and wanted to reunite with his family living in a small town in eastern Siberia. He claimed to have planned to cross into Turkey with the aim of returning to Russia.
Permyakov also said in his pre-trial testimony that he randomly picked the house as he sought to get money and civilian clothes before crossing the frontier. He said he never intended to kill its inhabitants but somehow opened fire out of fear.
Sahakian suggested another motive for the brutal crime, saying that Permyakov is a member of a “Satanist sect” active in Russia. According to Yerem Sargsian, another lawyer for the Avetisians’ relatives, the suspect made corresponding comments on social media before slaughtering the Gyumri family.
“Only a person espousing the Satanist ideology could have killed a 6-month-old baby with a bayonet in order to sacrifice him to his ‘Lord,’” Sargsian told the court. “This is a very important motive.”
The judge adjourned the trial until January 18 three hours after the start of its first session. He said Permyakov’s Armenian lawyer needs more time to familiarize himself with the criminal case.